Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wikipedia vs. Britannica?

Do you think Wikipedia, as an encyclopedia, is as accurate and up to date as Britannica? Or, stated another way, is collective knowledge = paid editors?

As I was reviewing material for my class on Wikis tomorrow, I ran across this in an article by Karl Kapp, Embracing Informal Learning: Understanding the tools of informal learning and their impact on organizations. On page 8 he shares this:
The British journal Nature—a reputable scientific journal first published
in 1869—published a peer-reviewed article examining a range of scientific entries in both the Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia through a rigorous peer review process and found few differences in accuracy. "The average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three [21]." The researchers found eight serious errors such as misinterpretations of important concepts in 42 reviews, there were four such errors found in each encyclopedia. Additionally, the reviewers found factual errors, omissions or
misleading statements in both. Wikipedia had 162 of these types of errors. The Encyclopedia Britannica had 123.

Essentially, the accuracy of the paper-based encyclopedia created by
paid editors and researchers was about the same as the collective encyclopedia created by visitors to the Wikipedia site—volunteer writers and editors [22] The implication? Collective knowledge is as accurate, reliable and helpful as edited and carefully reviewed knowledge. The openness of Wikipedia and wikis in general
helps to ensure accuracy. When a person browsing the site sees something they believe is wrong, they update it. The openness of the information ensures its accuracy. The concept of freedom of the press taken to the nth degree and it works.

It got me thinking. Am I telling my students to only trust people who are well paid to share information?

Just Sayin'
Lee Anne


Anonymous said...

Wikipedia actually has a special page highlighting errors in Encyclopedia Britannica that have been corrected in Wikipedia. It's a fun list to go through.

Lee Anne said...

Fantastic share, Christy! Love it. When do you think Encyclopeda Britannica will publish the errors in Wikipedia? :-D

Anonymous said...


Let me clear one thing up to begin with: Britannica editors are not so well paid as you may think. For that matter, I don’t know any editors who are. This is publishing, not investment banking. This idea that people who create encyclopedias for a living are greedy corporate profiteers is simply an invention of people who need an enemy to hate in the Internet revolution.

Editors are just scholarly liberal arts majors (some with advanced degrees) who have some sense of calling, have mastered a craft, and ply it as well as they can to pay the bills. Kind of like teachers. They make a fraction of what they'd get in corporate law or betting on hog-belly futures, but they do it anyway because it's the kind of work they'd prefer to do. It doesn't make them rich.

For another thing, the Nature study was completely baked. We at Britannica (yes, I work there) took it apart point by point here.

If you don't want to believe us, or you don't have time to read 7,000 words (sorry, but that's what it took simply to scratch the surface of their--ahem--study) you can read these to put the Nature thing in perspective: USA Today, The Register, and Nicholas Carr.

As for that page on Wikipedia that purports to list Britannica errors: Just because they say something, it doesn’t make it true.